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What are the Different Types of Air Pressure Tools?

By Phil Shepley
Updated May 17, 2024
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Air pressure tools, also called pneumatic tools, are mechanical tools that rely on compressed air or gas to operate. Types include nail guns, drills, paint sprayers, and other tools that come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are used for many different jobs. Air pressure tools are mostly found on professional job sites, but are also popular with do-it-yourself homeowners. These tools are usually lighter, more powerful, easier to use, and have fewer moving parts than their electrical counterparts.

The compressed air or gas used to power air pressure tools can come from a mechanical air compressor as well as from cans of compressed gas. There is typically a hose that connects the tool with the source of gas. Larger industrial tools will require a very powerful air compressor and a strong hose, while some smaller varieties, such as do-it-yourself tools may only need a small, low-power air compressor.

Most power tools are made as air pressure tools in addition to being available as electrical or non-powered tools. One of the most common examples is the pneumatic nail gun, also called a power nailer or air hammer. These tools have obvious advantages over using a hammer to pound nails because they are faster, more accurate and much more powerful. Air hammers are also available that utilize the power of compressed air for purposes other than applying nails, such as chipping, cutting, and scrapping a wide range of materials.

Compressed air pressure tools can also transfer their power into high amounts of torque, which allows them to spin with a great deal of power. These types include pneumatic sanders, air ratchets, and air impact wrenches, the latter of which typically have the ability to hook up any number of attachments for different kinds of work. For example, screwdriver heads and sockets can be attached for powerful insertion and removal of screws and bolts, which can often be impossible to remove by hand.

More air pressure tools that take advantage of the powerful torque created by compressed air are air drills and tapping machines. Air drills can drill much more powerfully than electric drills; this can make it necessary for the drill bits to be even stronger and made from denser metals. Similarly, air compressor tapping machines can insert screw holes into very hard surfaces with their high levels of torque.

Other kinds of pneumatic tools take advantage of a powerful release of compressed air, in addition to the pressure. The most common examples of these are paint sprayers and airbrushes that can use compressed air to release paint over a surface quickly, powerfully, and evenly. Power washers operate similarly and release water at very high velocities to clean surfaces quickly and thoroughly with little effort on the operator's part. Even more powerful are sandblasters, which release steam along with tiny bits of sand that can actually remove layers of surfaces, and are commonly used for removing paint, smoothing surfaces, and making surfaces rougher.

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